Fadi Fael's Inspiring Journey of Resilience and Reinvention - Building Markets

Fadi Fael’s Inspiring Journey of Resilience and Reinvention

by Nawar Maarri
December 29, 2023

Fadi Fael, a Syrian restaurant owner now in his sixties, has experienced numerous challenges as a small business owner, including war, a global pandemic, language barriers, earthquakes, and difficulty accessing financing. But his thoughtful, systematic, and innovative approach as a leader has allowed him to persevere. Building Markets is proud to support Fadi and other small business leaders who are making a difference in their communities. 

Fadi Gael embarked on his entrepreneurial journey over thirty years ago, right after earning his optometry degree in Italy and returning to his homeland, Syria. He opened his optometry practice there, and over time grew the business to manufacture lenses and eye drops. Business was going well until the Syrian war broke out in 2011. His factories fell victim to devastating fire and missile strikes, prompting a painful decision: he and his family had to leave Syria in 2013, seeking refuge in Türkiye.

In his new home of Gaziantep, Türkiye, Fadi faced a challenge common for many refugees – non-recognition of professional credentials. Without a way forward in his trained field, he needed to pivot his career in order to provide for his family.

“In early 2014, I founded Bousla for Training and Development in Gaziantep with the support of the Syrian Forum, which is based in Istanbul. I then moved to work as a training manager at Physicians Across Continents. In early 2017, I moved to work as a human resources manager at SAMS until the end of 2018. I worked as a human resources manager at the Hand In Hand organization for six months in 2019,” Fadi explained. 

In early 2020, Fadi’s children pointed out his culinary talents, particularly in making lasagna, a skill honed during his time studying in Italy. They encouraged him to open a restaurant where his passion for Italian cuisine could flourish, but the timing couldn’t have been more challenging. Just as Fadi was preparing to open his restaurant, COVID-19 struck the world. The pandemic forced a ten-month opening delay and an additional five-month delay before he could operate at full capacity. But it wasn’t just time that was lost. 

“Unfortunately, we could not open due to the general closures caused by the spread of COVID-19. This caused us additional losses and the depletion of a large portion of the operating budget due to our obligation to pay the full rent value in addition to paying the salaries of two employees,” Fadi recalls. 

Once operational, the business faced other hurdles. Some Turkish customers expressed reluctance to return after learning Fasi is Syrian, or even canceled orders when they experienced a language barrier. 

In October 2020, Fadi discovered Building Markets. Becoming part of the network has allowed him to connect with more than 2,800 small businesses in Türkiye, opening invaluable networking opportunities with others in the food services sector. By participating in webinars and events, he has gained critical insights that have helped him navigate hurdles common to entrepreneurs in a host country, particularly in marketing. His training has also taught him the crucial importance of studying the market, understanding his target audience, and establishing efficient working mechanisms. 

“Building Markets helped me by holding several workshops to acquire the skills of e-marketing, network marketing, and product price analysis. They also helped me to identify some suppliers from packaging and filling factories, and sources from food companies that I needed to prepare the products that I offer,” Fadi said.

These important connections led to new deals with a cheese supplier and a packaging company, improving his restaurant’s operations.

After the devastating earthquakes in February 2023, Fadi was at a challenging crossroads yet again. His restaurant and everything he had built was destroyed – all he was able to salvage was equipment. To continue operating, Fadi decided to partner with Soon Kitchen, a Turkish business. They applied for a reconstruction grant and this collaborative cross-cultural venture has proven to be a success. 

“With the grant provided by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Building Markets with an amount of $6,000, we acquired a new lasagna oven, seamlessly integrating it with the existing appliances that survived from the earthquake. The restaurant operates as a collaborative effort between Syrian and Turkish communities, and our employees share a common bond,” Fadi explains.

Today, Fadi still innovating and exploring new ways to expand his business, Solo Lasagna. He would like to rebuild his restaurant and has also considered business-to-business prepared food sales, direct-to-consumer sales via mobile apps, and starting a food truck. “For our current venture, we’ve partnered with a cloud restaurant named Soon Kitchen, where we offer a variety of dishes, including lasagna, pizza, and sandwiches,” he shares about his latest project. His goal is to streamline production and sales operations, delivering higher quality while managing costs effectively. 

To turn his ideas into reality, Fadi is actively seeking financing from a funder who shares his passion, which has not been easy. Still, his vision for the future is bright. Looking ahead, Fadi envisions investing in technological advancements in food services and hopes for greater interest and support from Turkish institutions for Syrian companies, fostering collaboration and mutual growth opportunities. But what has always been most rewarding is fostering young talent and building a collaborative culture where everyone has the opportunity to determine their own future.

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